Category Archives: Right to shelter

The nuts and bolts of racial discrimination, Zionist style

Israel’s West Bank housing policy by numbers

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Since seizing the West Bank in 1967, Israel has held full control over all planning matters for both Palestinians and Jewish settlers in an area covering over 60 percent of the territory.

Although settlers can secure building permits with ease, the opposite applies for Palestinians who are forced to build illegally, with Israel bulldozing hundreds of such structures every year, rights groups say.

Villages vs. settlements Over 60 percent – around 360,000 hectares – of the West Bank is classified as Area C, which Israel aims to retain under any final settlement. This is where Israel has full control over security and also civilian affairs which are managed by the Civil Administration.

U.N. figures show there are an estimated 298,000 Palestinians living in Area C, in 532 residential areas. There are also 341,000 Israelis living in 135 settlements and 100 or so unauthorized outposts.

Less than 1 percent of Area C is designated for Palestinian development, compared to 70 percent which falls within the domain of local settlements, the U.N. says. Palestinian construction in the rest of Area C is subject to severe restrictions and almost impossible to carry out.

Demolition orders vs. permitsSince the 1993 Oslo autonomy accords were signed, Israel has issued more than 14,600 demolition orders, according to Israeli planning rights watchdog Bimkom.

So far, about 2,925 structures have actually been demolished.

Bimkom architect Alon Cohen Lifschitz estimates there are an average of two structures per order, meaning that over the past two decades, Israel has issued demolition notices to nearly 30,000 Palestinian-owned structures.

Last year, Israel issued 911 demolition orders on grounds of a lack of building permits. There are currently more than 9,100 outstanding demolition orders which can be implemented, Bimkom says.

Structures can include anything from a house to an animal shed, a road or fence, foundations, infrastructure, cisterns, cemeteries and solar panels. Since 1996, Israel has granted only a few hundred building permits for Palestinian structures.

According to Amnesty International, there were 76 building permits issued to Palestinians between 1996 and 1999. And from 2000-2014, only 206 building permits were issued, Bimkom says. In 2014, Israel granted a single permit.

Two-tier planning system

In Area C, a two-tier planning system operates based on ethnic-national background: a civil and representative system for Jewish settlers, and a military system without representation for Palestinians, Israeli NGO Rabbis for Human Rights says.

In planning for Palestinian villages, the objectives are to limit land use and encourage dense construction, whereas in the settlements, the trend is often the opposite – to include as much area as possible, producing low density, it says.

Racism is the Foundation of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge

Racism is the Foundation of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge
Jul 30 2014, by Joel Beinin

On 30 June Ayelet Shaked, chairwoman of the Knesset faction of the ultra-right wing ha-Bayit ha-Yehudi (Jewish Home) Party, a key member of the coalition government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, posted on her Facebook page a previously unpublished article written by the late Uri Elitzur. Elitzur, a pro-settler journalist and former chief-of-staff to Netanyahu, wrote:

Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism… They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now, this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They must follow their sons. Nothing would be more just. They should go, as well as the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.

Shaked’s post appeared the day the bodies of three abducted settler teens­—Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach—were discovered. It has since received more than 5,200 “likes.”

For over two weeks, Netanyahu and the media whipped the country into a hysterical state, accusing Hamas of responsibility for abducting the teens without providing evidence to support the claim and promoting hopes that they would be found alive, although the government knew that the boys were likely murdered within minutes of their abduction. Their deaths provided a pretext for more violent expressions of Israeli anti-Arab racism than ever before.

The viciousness of Mordechai Kedar, lecturer in Arabic literature at Bar Ilan University, was even more creative than Shaked and Elitzur’s merely genocidal proposal. “The only thing that can deter terrorists like those who kidnapped the children and killed them,” he said, “is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped.” As a university-based “expert,” Kedar’s heinous suggestion is based on his “understanding” of Arab culture. “It sounds very bad, but that’s the Middle East,” he explained, hastening to add, “I’m not talking about what we should or shouldn’t do. I’m talking about the facts.”

Racism has become a legitimate, indeed an integral, component of Israeli public culture, making assertions like these seem “normal.” The public devaluation of Arab life enables a society that sees itself as “enlightened” and “democratic” to repeatedly send its army to slaughter the largely defenseless population of the Gaza Strip—1.8 million people, mostly descendants of refugees who arrived during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and have been, to a greater or lesser extent, imprisoned since 1994.

Conciliatory gestures, on the other hand, are scorned. Just two days after Shaked’s Facebook post, Orthodox Jews kidnapped sixteen-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir from the Shu‘afat neighborhood of East Jerusalem and burned him alive in the Jerusalem Forest. Amir Peretz (Hatnua) was the only government minister to visit the grieving family. For this effort he received dozens of posts on his Facebook page threatening to kill him and his family. Meanwhile, vandals twice destroyed memorials erected to Abu Khdeir on the spot of his immolation.

The international community typically sees the manifestations of Israel’s violent racism only when they erupt as assaults on the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, or Lebanon. But Israel’s increasingly poisonous anti-Arab and anti-Muslim public culture prepares the ground of domestic public opinion long before any military operation and immunizes the army from most criticism of its “excesses.” Moreover, Israeli anti-democratic and racist sentiment is increasingly directed against Palestinian citizens of Israel, who comprise twenty percent of the population.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beytenu (Israel Is Our Home) Party made his political reputation on the slogan “No Loyalty, No Citizenship”—a demand that Palestinian Israelis swear loyalty oaths as a condition of retaining their citizenship. Since 2004 Lieberman has also advocated “transferring” Palestinian-Israelis residing in the Triangle region to a future Palestinian state, while annexing most West Bank settlements to Israel. In November 2011 Haaretz published a partial list of ten “loyalty-citizenship” bills in various stages of legislation designed to “determine certain citizens’ rights according to their ‘loyalty’ to the state.”

While Lieberman and other MKs pursue legal channels to legally undermine the citizenship of Palestinian-Israelis, their civil rights are already in serious danger. In 2010 eighteen local rabbis warned that the Galilee town of Safed faced an “Arab takeover” and instructed Jewish residents to inform on and boycott Jews who sold or rented dwellings to Arabs. In addition to promoting segregated housing, Safed’s Chief Rabbi, Shmuel Eliyahu, tried to ban Arab students from attending Safed Academic College (about 1,300 Palestinian-Israelis are enrolled, some of whom live in Safed). The rabbinical statement incited rampages by religious Jews chanting “Death to the Arabs,” leading Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy to dub Safed “the most racist city” in Israel. In Karmiel and Upper Nazareth—towns established as part of Israel’s campaign to “Judaize the Galilee”—elected officials have led similar campaigns.

Palestinian Israeli Knesset members receive regular verbal abuse from their Jewish “colleagues.” For example, Hanin Zoabi (National Democratic Alliance), who participated in the 2010 Freedom Flotilla to the Gaza Strip, which Israeli naval commandos attacked, killing nine Turks (one of whom also held US citizenship), has been particularly targeted. In the verbal sparring over the murder of the three teens Foreign Minister Lieberman called her a “terrorist.” Not to be outdone, Miri Regev (Likud) said Zoabi should be “expelled to Gaza and stripped of her [Knesset] immunity.” Other Knesset members—some from putatively “liberal” parties—piled on. [Update: Yesterday—29 July—Hanin Zoabi was suspended from Knesset].

Violence against Arabs in and around Israeli-annexed “Greater Jerusalem” is particularly intense. Much of it is the work of Orthodox Jews. The Jewish Defense League, banned in Israel in 1994 and designated a terrorist organization by the FBI in 2001, and several similar groups regularly assault and harass Arabs. The day of the funeral of the three abducted teens, some two hundred Israelis rampaged through the streets of Jerusalem chanting “Death to Arabs.” The previous evening, hardcore fans of the Betar Jerusalem football club, known as La Familia, rallied chanting, “Death to the Arabs.”  The same chant is frequently heard at games of the team, which is associated with the Likud and does not hire Arab players. Hate marches, beatings and shootings of Arabs, and destruction of their property, long common in the West Bank, have become regular events in Israel-proper in the last month.

The citizenship-loyalty bills, Safed’s designation as “the most racist city,” the attacks volleyed at Palestinian elected officials, and mob violence against Arabs all took place before Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on 8 July. The operation—more aggressively dubbed “Firm Cliff” in Hebrew—constitutes Israel’s third assault on the Gaza Strip since 2008. As of yesterday, 29 July, the Palestinian death toll in that operation has reached over 1,200, the great majority of them civilians. Thirty-two Israeli soldiers and three civilians have also died. Israeli security officials sardonically call these operations “mowing the lawn” because well-informed observers know that Hamas cannot be uprooted and is capable of rebuilding its military capacity. There is no long-term strategy, except, as Gideon Levy put it, to kill Palestinians. Major General (res.) Oren Shachor elaborated, “If we kill their families, that will frighten them.” And what might deter Israel?

[This piece originally appeared in a special weeklong series on the Stanford University Press blog, and is reposted here in partnership with SUP blog. The entire ten-part series can be found on the SUP blog.]

U.S. Treatment of Homeless Persons Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Say UN Experts

March 14, 2014

U.S. Treatment of Homeless Persons Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Say UN Experts

Geneva, Switzerland – On Thursday, March 13, the U.N. Human Rights Committee reviewed U.S. compliance with a major human rights treaty, raising concerns of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment for the practice of criminalizing homeless people for performing necessary life functions such as sleeping and eating in public when they have no private alternatives.
The criminalization of homelessness in the U.S. is documented in a report, Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading: Homelessness in the United States Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, submitted to the Committee by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (“NLCHP”) and the Allard K. Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School.

The U.S. review, which takes place periodically under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the last review was in 2006), follows a U.S. report to the Committee, submitted on December 30, 2011.

“I appreciate that the federal government is acknowledging that the criminalization of people living on the street for everyday life activities, such as eating, sleeping, sitting in particular areas…raises serious human rights concerns…,” said Walter Kaelin, a Swiss member of the Committee, “There are ample reports about how criminalization of the homeless is discriminatory; how, as stressed by several UN Special Rapporteurs, and also federal agencies, how such instances of criminalization often raises concerns of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”

Kaelin continued with specific questions, “Do you already provide, or do you plan to provide incentives for decriminalization? Do you plan to withdraw funding for local authorities that continue to criminalize the homeless in a discriminatory way, in a way that may amount to inhuman treatment, degrading treatment? Do you plan to sanction criminalization policies, or are your activities really limited just in sensitizing local authorities, something very important, but probably not sufficient.”

Rather than responding to the specific questions, Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, US Department of the Interior, responded with a general list of issues being worked on by the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, including efforts to encourage cities not to criminalize homelessness, exactly the sort of efforts the Committee said were “important, but not sufficient”.

“The U.S. government knew these topics would be on the Committee’s agenda since last March, when they put it on their list of issues for discussion, and last July, we held a meeting to discuss specific recommendations for action,” said Jeremy Rosen, Policy Director at NLCHP, in Geneva for the review. “The lack of specificity in the government’s response is pretty disappointing.”

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker continued on behalf of the U.S. delegation by explaining his city’s more constructive approach of providing housing rather than criminalizing, which has led to a 75% decline in chronic homelessness in the state. The mayor said this makes him “surprised when he hears homeless even in the same breath as criminalization.”

However, as documented in the report submitted to the Committee by NLCHP , Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading: Homelessness in the United States Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights-one of the “ample reports” of criminalization to which Kaelin referred-the approach demonstrated by Salt Lake City is far from universally implemented.

“As homelessness becomes more visible in American communities, some, like Salt Lake City, have made generally positive responses,” said Mr. Rosen. “Unfortunately, we’ve also seen an increase in communities passing ordinances banning camping or sleeping outdoors, despite providing no alternative, forcing people to make the cruel choice between sleep and being arrested.”

“Sleep deprivation and hunger are widely recognized as techniques that are cruel, inhuman and degrading when used against prisoners. It shouldn’t matter if the prison is bricks and mortar, or one of economic policies and draconian ordinances,” said Eric Tars, Director of Human Rights and Children’s Rights Programs at NLCHP. “As Committee Member Kaelin stated, the federal action on this issue so far is ‘not sufficient,’ and our government must do more to protect homeless people from these policies.”

“We expected more concrete responses from the federal government at this review,” Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director at NLCHP, concluded. “But we look forward to working with the government on additional-and stronger– measures in response to the concerns and questions raised by the Committee.”

The Committee will issue its final recommendations to the U.S. government, called Concluding Observations, on March 26.  

Criminalization of Poverty in Canada

Criminalization of Poverty in Canada

by OWJN, July 2008 


What is Poverty?

In Canada, poverty is commonly defined by the low income cut-offs (LICOs) established by Statistics Canada. LICOs represent the poverty line in Canada and “convey the income level at which a family may be in straitened circumstances because it has to spend a greater proportion of its income on necessities rather than the average family of similar size.” The after-tax LICO in 2005 for a single person in an urban area of more than 500,000 people was $17,219, while the line was drawn at $32,556 for a family in the same urban area. In Toronto, nearly one in four households has an income lower than the LICO.

The United Nations Statistics Division similarly defines “poverty line” as “an income level that is considered minimally sufficient to sustain a family in terms of food, housing, clothing, medical needs, and so on.” The United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights provides a broader definition of poverty: “a human condition characterized by the sustained or chronic deprivation of the resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living and other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.” Furthermore, “economic deprivation – lack of income – is a standard feature of most definitions of poverty. But this in itself does not take account of the myriad of social, cultural and political aspects of the phenomenon. Poverty is not only deprivation of economic or material resources but a violation of human dignity too.”

From the above definitions of poverty, it is clear that poverty is pervasive and difficult to escape. Poverty affects every element of a person’s life by restricting their choices and chances. Poverty can mean anything from having a daily struggle to pay the bills, to being unable to afford to feed yourself or your family, to being homeless. Living in poverty may also include receiving social assistance. The Canadian Council on Social Development suggests that most people at or below the LICO are on some type of social assistance and notes that “low-paying and precarious jobs, particularly part-time jobs, just do not provide enough income to replace even low social assistance benefits.” Poverty and homelessness are more than mere economic problems ‚Äì they are social problems created and maintained by social, economic and political systems.

Poverty as a Social Problem

Canada has an individualistic culture that promotes the idea that individuals who work hard advance. This cultural idea is reinforced by the myth that people deserve their lot in life; the myth that the poor deserve to be poor and that the rich deserve to be rich. To compound the problems that poor individuals and families face, the Canadian Council on Social Development states that there is growing public indifference to the needs of the very poor and marginalized, in addition to a toxic “punish the poor” mentality. Social myths affect individuals, and they also affect society. These widely accepted myths inform social policy and lead to political inaction on issues of poverty. Poverty is a social problem that persists due to the social, political and economic culture.

Criminalization of Poverty and Homelessness

Recently in Canada there has been a rise in poverty and homelessness, particularly in large urban centers like Toronto, where the disparities between the rich and the poor are ever increasing. One of the ways that the government has attempted to deal with poverty, including homelessness, has been to criminalize it.

The criminalization of poverty involves declaring certain acts that are more likely to be committed by poor or homeless people, such as begging and being in public places, a crime. “Living without a home is considered a crime. Sleeping outside or in a car is illegal, soliciting work or conducting unrecognized work on land that you don’t own or pay for is increasingly criminalized and more and more poor workers, homeless people, welfare recipients, undocumented workers and youth in our country face police harassment, abuse and even incarceration for living in poverty” (United States Social Forum). Declaring these things to be crimes places additional burdens on people living in poverty. It also promotes social exclusion and fails to address the root causes of poverty and homelessness.

One example of the criminalization of poverty in Ontario is the so-called “squeegee law” called the Safe Streets Act. Under this law, it is illegal to solicit in an “aggressive manner.” “Aggressive manner” means a manner that is likely to cause a reasonable person to be concerned for his or her safety or security.” The law effectively targets homeless youth who engage in “squeegeeing” to survive. It also captures other homeless people, including the elderly, who ask for money in an “aggressive manner.”

The criminalization of poor and homeless peoples’ behaviour ignores the social realities of poverty. It fails to take into account the circumstances of people’s lives. Bill O’Grady and Robert Bright suggested that for poor and homeless youth, cleaning car windows was a rational response to the circumstances they faced on the streets. In contrast, law-makers characterized the act of squeegeeing as a nuisance and an annoyance.

In a recent Court of Appeal for Ontario decision, Justice Juriansz, for the court, upheld the law as just and constitutional. David Banks and others were convicted of panhandling offences under the Safe Streets Act and Highway Traffic Act. Banks and the other accused admitted that “by squeegeeing on various Toronto roads and soliciting money from cars stopped at red lights, they had committed an offence.” Nonetheless, they asked the court to set aside their convictions, arguing that the legislation was unconstitutional. They claimed that the law was unconstitutional because it infringed on rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Charter, including the right to life, liberty and security, the right to equality, and the right to the freedom of expression.

The court did not agree. Justice Juriansz reasoned that the right to life, liberty and security was not infringed because Banks and the others could have solicited money in other ways that were not prohibited by law. In addition, Justice Juriansz did not find that the appellants were discriminated against, and he found that they had alternative means to express their message.

The court’s decision reinforces the belief that the poor are agents of their own misfortune and fails to address the systemic factors that deny and limit the choices that are available to people living in poverty.

Poverty and Women (and Children)

In 2003, 1.5 million adult Canadian women were living in poverty. Women experience poverty at higher rates than men. Men receive more income than women from all sources, including wages and salaries, investment, retirement, and other income. Single mothers have the most unstable earnings and are among the most impoverished people in Canada. There are several reasons why women (and children) live in poverty:

Discrimination against women in gaining access to paid work and a fair income.

Sex-role stereotypes about women’s involvement in paid work – women account for 70% of all part-time employees and two-thirds of women are employed within traditionally women-dominated occupations.

A change in family composition, such as a divorce, greatly increases a woman’s chance of entering poverty.

Intersectionality: Aboriginal women, racialized women, disabled women and queer women are more likely to live in poverty than white women, able-bodied women and heterosexual women.

In Canada, women are at greater risk of poverty than men because of their gender. Social constructions of gender ‚Äì ideas about what it means to be a woman – also contribute to women’s poverty. Because of stereotypes about women’s nature and their ability and desire to act as caregivers, women are disproportionately responsible for unpaid caregiving labour, for example looking after children or aging or ill family members. Women are frequently dependent on men for financial support, which makes them vulnerable to exploitation and to poverty if the relationship with the man breaks down.

Criminalization of Women

Just as poverty and homelessness are generally criminalized through anti-begging laws and restrictions on public spaces, impoverished women are specifically criminalized as poor women.

Women who live in poverty are often charged with property offences and are criminalized for activities they regard as necessary for their economic survival, including sex work. About 70% of prostitutes are mothers, “mostly single mothers struggling to support families” (Street Sheet). Faced with difficult economic choices and “the evisceration of health, education and social services,” (DisAbled Women’s Network Ontario) women living in poverty may become entangled in the criminal justice system.

Poverty does not necessarily lead to crime, but “poverty is woven into the fabric of these women’s lives, reducing their options, crippling their morale, and rendering them outsiders” (Review of Women, Crime and Poverty). Further, “[w]ith women’s wages still pitched at less than 76% of men’s, most jobs available to women go nowhere near covering the costs of survival. Welfare ‘reform’ has destroyed the safety net which saved many from destitution — over 11 million mainly women-headed families have lost their sole income” (Street Sheet).


Discrimination against poor women threatens women’s ability to provide for themselves and to make choices that promote economic security. The criminalization of poverty limits women’s choices even more and makes them vulnerable to abuse, extreme poverty and homelessness. C. Lochead and K. Scott suggest that “[t]he solution to women’s poverty may lie in providing a range of options that afford women a choice over their lives…Alleviating women’s poverty is ultimately about giving women choice: the choice to pursue paid labour, the choice to care for others or even follow other personal interests without sacrificing their own well-being or the well-being of their families.” The criminalization of poverty does the opposite of what Kochead and Scott recommend ‚Äì further constricting women’s choices and penalizing them for their lack of privilege and social location.



Canadian Council on Social Development, “A Community Growing Apart: Income Gaps and Changing Needs in the City of Toronto in the 1990s” (October 2001), available online at <>.

C. Lochead and K. Scott, The Dynamics of Women’s Poverty in Canada (Canadian Council on Social Development, March 2000).

DAWN DisAbled Women’s Network Ontario, “Prisons as Panacea,” available online at <>.

Elizabeth Fry Society, “Issues Associated with Increased Criminalization of Women,” available online at <>.

Mayor’s Homelessness Action Task Force. Taking Responsibility for Homelessness: An Action Plan for Toronto, (Toronto: Municipality of Toronto, 1999).

Review of Women, Crime, and Poverty by Pat Carlen, Journal of Law and Society, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Winter, 1989), pp.521-524.

Safe Streets Act 1999, S.O. 1999, c. 8.

Statistics Canada, Income in Canada 2005, “Notes and Definitions,” available online at <>.

Statistics Canada, Income in Canada 2005, “Table 14.1 Low income after tax cut-offs 2001-2005,” available online at <>.

Street Sheet (San Fransico) June 2005, p. 7, “The Criminalization of Survival: Poverty, Violence and Prostitution,” available online at <>.

The Court, “Banks: The Criminalization of Povert?” available online at <>.

United Nations Statistics Division, available online at <>.

United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights, Human Rights in Development, “What is Poverty?” available online at <>.

United States Social Forum, “Criminalization of Poverty,” available online at <https://www.ussf2007/org/en/node/1363>.